Final thoughts on the Netherlands, Iceland, and stewardship of the land

I’m going to make a strange comment, and I ask you to hear me out before you slam the computer shut in astonishment:

When I think back on the journey to the Netherlands and Iceland, I keep being haunted by the thought that the Netherlands is perhaps the greatest possible cultural manifestation of Christian values regarding the land, while Iceland is a perfect embodiment of pagan values regarding the land.

Now, stay with me.

The Christian charge regarding the earth is to subdue it and make it fruitful. More than anyplace I’ve ever been, the Netherlands has been successful in subduing the earth and bending her to its purposes. That they have done so gently and respectfully, and in the service of human good, is much to their credit. They have claimed land from the sea, they have run watercourses throughout their country, they have bred flowers and foods that increase human health and the experience of human beauty. They have, to the extent that it is possible, been gentle stewards of the land in the best manner of the Biblical injunction. kent travels 030.jpg

Iceland, on the other hand, has harnessed some of the power of the land in terms of such technologies as geothermal energy, but mostly they have adapted to its commands and demands, making an honest genuflection to its power and dominance. They make small roads, they live on what the land will bear in its natural cultivation rather than creating artificial environments to grow plants and animals that do not naturally thrive there, they leave great stones in their roadways if those stones have a historical precedent as having spiritual power. To travel across their country is to sense the presence of nature, not the presence of culture.

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What strikes me as I consider these two worlds through which I passed is how viable each seems as a human adaptation to the land. We are, by our nature, culture builders. We do not live as feral beings and we do not live in a world of adaptation devoid of the exercise of imagination. That the Dutch have looked upon their environment and tried to master it, and the Icelanders have looked upon theirs and tried to fit into it, does not change the fact that each has, in its own way, tried to exercise a worthy stewardship over the piece of earth it calls its own.

The peril we face today does not come from such differing philosophies of how to serve as stewards of the earth, but from the failure to exercise control over how we act upon those philosophies. If the preservation and sustenance of the earth is not a core value in a culture’s philosophy; if the long term good of the earth is trumped by the belief in the short term good of the individual, then the land on which those people live will inevitably come to grief.

This is not a political position, it is a simple fact. Each person pursuing his or her self interest does not necessarily add up to the best interest of the land. It takes an active decision to believe that acting in the earth’s interest is actually in your own self interest. For a long time this seemed like a philosophical canard and little more. But, as the condition of the earth is shown to be ever more fragile and the threats to it ever more borderless and international, what was a philosophical canard is fast becoming a practical grounds for personal and governmental action.

In the last analysis, it does not matter how we look at the earth — as Christians, pagans, Muslims, Hindus,Taoists or Confucians or atheists or Jews — so long as we look at it as the place that must sustain our children. If we put aside our philosophical and political differences, if we recognize that the earth on which we walk must remain healthy enough to hold the footsteps of our children, we can truly weave the tapestry of cultures that the dreamers among us envision.

But if we don’t; if, when making our decisions, we refuse to look into the eyes of the children and grandchildren all around the world, that tapestry will be torn and destroyed before it is ever woven.

Then the winds that blow will be ill winds indeed, and none of us will need a weatherman to know which way those winds blow.

8 thoughts on “Final thoughts on the Netherlands, Iceland, and stewardship of the land”

  1. Great observations Kent, it opened my eyes to different options for us to choose. I also agree with your statement that it doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, as long as you have the core value of sustaining our children and future generations.

  2. Kent…Tbanks for widening the view.
    Your perspectives are cherished.

    I have this on my desk.. but most
    days I want to participate in turning
    the sharp corner all at once.

    “Changes in attitude never come easily
    The development of love and compassion
    is a wide, round curve that can be
    negotiated only slowly, not a sharp
    corner that can be turned all at once.
    It comes with daily practice.” Dali Lama

    ~moe ross

  3. If a man identifies himself only by his name, then the world and everything in it will always be about him. If, on the other hand, he identifies himself as a child of the Creator and a part of His creation, then his views shift from “me” to “we.” It’s not about us, but it’s up to us. To be what we were created to be. Not to think we are what creation is all about.

    I don’t believe God gave us dominion over the earth and its creatures to enslave them to do our will. And I don’t believe nature was created as it was just to be window dressing–something pretty to look at. We were created to grow into something that exceeds the limitations of humanity, and part of that process comes from being good stewards of all that we are a part of.

    If we identify ourselves only by our name, and we identify all in creation only by the name we have assigned to each “thing,” then we are missing the whole point of life, and living is nothing more than mere existence. Death rules. Everything is nothing forever.

    If we view creation as the very essence of life–what we are created a part of, what we are created for, and what we are created to become–then our identity has no limitations. We become part of the Spirit that moves in all things. We continue to become more and more as we learn to see that each thing in creation has something to teach us, a gift that is unique only to it.

    In giving our protection to this earth and each thing in it, we in turn are protected. In caring, we become cared for. In loving, we become loved. When we believe that everything has something special to offer, we see that we ourselves have something special to offer.

    What each of us does is ultimately up to us. But what we do doesn’t effect only us. There is more beyond the horizon. Much, much more! May we all be granted the wisdom to know, and remember that some things–most things– have to be believed to be seen. And once we see, may we do. And then may we each help another to see so that they may do.

    Thanks, Kent, for speaking from your heart. It reminds me that I have one, too, and that it’s only worth something if I use it.

  4. I find both cultures accepting and interesting. I like reading your blog because I get so many e-mails from friends and acquaintances that breed narrow mindedness and one kind of thinking. Sometimes I e-mail them your thoughts. I believe it’s okay to plant and cultivate, but it’s also okay to let things remain and grow on their own. It’s too bad the Euro-man did not keep that in mind when he colonized North America. Think what it would have been like to live in proximaty with Native Americans, letting them live as they wanted to. We will never know what the outcome of that would have been. Their beliefs and culture live on even though it was nearly destroyed.

  5. Hi Kent,

    Love your sentiments about the Earth, our children, cherishing the land, each other and ourselves–in everyday moments of solitude, beauty and divinity.

    Something quite amazing happened recently that I just have to share with you. The past 5 years have been very difficult for me. I lost my job, fell off a horse, was on disability,
    am trying to get a photo note card career started but it’s slow going and I just found out I have fluid in my knee and may need to get it drained. Ugh.

    Last month I decided to rent a room in my home as my savings were quickly diminishing. I needed help–badly. A young woman responded
    by e-mail. We’d never met, and I was leary about renting a room to a perfect stranger.

    Still, something in my heart told me it would be okay. Now, a month later, I thank God for bringing this young lady to me. She’s from the Philippines and is a post-doc at the University and may stay 2+ years! She’s an angel from heaven. We get along great and this morning she left for a business trip for 3 days. First time we’ll be apart in a month.

    When I awoke this morning, the house seemed quieter in an empty sort of way. I wandered downstairs to feed my kitties and discovered your book, SMALL GRACES, sitting in a pile of stuff I’d never even seen before. I recalled buying it at a garage sale a year or so ago.

    I took it to my bedroom and read the whole book in one sitting. Then I googled your name and discovered your website and was further
    interested and enchanted. I love your work and thoroughly enjoyed SMALL GRACES and couldn’t agree more with your sentiments and philosophies. I hope to learn and read more from you.

    I thank God for synchronicity, for Kismet, for myserty and magic. For happening upon your book this morning just when my housemate left and I was feeling blue. For discovering you,
    your website and other writings. For feeling
    less lonely in an ever challenging world. For enrichment,enhancement and encouragement to appreciate the “small graces” in our everyday lives: the trees, flowers, insects, animals, Earth, sky and clouds. As a nature photographer, I heartily agree.

    And perhaps, most of all, for the blessing of my new housemate who provides income so I may stay afloat financially, companionship so I will feel less lonely and friendship so I will feel understood and accepted.

    The irony of it all is not only that she came to me easily and out of the blue when I truly needed a housemate, but that we clicked instantly, effortlessly and divinely. Is it no coincidence then, that on the day she left for a trip I happened upon your book with HER
    name in the title: Grace!???

    Amazing GRACE.


  6. Kent,
    Your thoughts and comparisons of the two countries, The Netherlands and Iceland and their attitudes toward how they use the land they have been given were excellent. You have reminded me of a story published just this last March about 2 well-to-do homeowners here in the U.S. and the considerations they made when building their homes:

    HOME # 1:
    A 20-room mansion (not including 8 bathrooms) heated by natural gas. Add on a pool (and a pool house) and a separate guesthouse all American household in an ENTIRE YEAR. The average bill for electricity and natural gas runs over $2,400.00 per month. In natural gas alone (which last time we checked was a fossil fuel), this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home. This house is not in a northern or midwestern “snow belt,” either. It’s in the South.

    HOME # 2:
    Designed by an architecture professor at a leading national university, this house incorporates every “green” feature current home construction can provide. The house contains only 4,000 square feet (4 bedrooms) and is nestled on arid high prairie in the American southwest. A central closet in the house holds geothermal heat pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the ground. The water (usually 67 degrees F.) heats the house in winter and cools it in summer. The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas, and it consumes 25% of the electricity required for a conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected and funneled into a 25,000-gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land surrounding the house. Flowers and shrubs native to the area blend the property into the surrounding rural landscape.
    HOUSE # 1 (20 room energy guzzling mansion) is outside of Nashville, Tennessee. It is the abode of that renowned environmentalist (and filmmaker) Al Gore.

    HOUSE # 2 (model eco-friendly house) is on a ranch near Crawford, Texas. Also known as “the Texas White House,” it is the private residence of the President of the United States, George W. Bush.

    These two men can be environmental models for us all.

    So whose house is gentler on the environment? Yet another story you WON’T hear on CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC or read about in the New York Times or the Washington Post. Thank you Mr. Nerburn for allowing me to post it here.
    Indeed, for Mr. Gore, it’s truly “an inconvenient truth.”


    Mark Baylor

  7. Finally something I can agree with regarding caring for and preserving our earth. This should have nothing to do with religion, politics or personal beliefs, rather a strong sense of survial. We should care for the things that we love and be good stewards of all that we have.

  8. Uhm, Hi 🙂

    This link was send by a friend in SA, and as I live in the Netherlands they thought I might have some comment on it ?

    Well, completely Dutchy-style meaning uncensored, in-your-face and quite possibly an unwanted or even regarded as overkill comment, here it goes: ( in dutchafrikaans )


    Die ding wat die outjie raak gesien het is wat baie Hollanders self glad nie, en nooit nie, raak sal sien nie; nl. alle seeen komt die Here.

    Maar die ‘verandering’ hier het nie van die ene jaar oppie anner gekom, dit het ook nie gesluimer nie, dit het van die jare ’60 tot nu gekom en het, soos eerder gese, nie gesluimer nie maar gehardloop.

    Baie mense dink die Islam is die oorsaak van morele verval, maar dis meer een opvulling van een leegte, een gaping, veroorsaak deur een generasie mense wat die Here geken en gedien het maar (een generasie geproduseer het) wat oppie ou uiteinde God verlaat het. Baie van oortuigings, idees, wat die mense in hierdie land in die 50’s uitgedra het ( en die werke waarnaar die skrywer verwys het ) lewe al glad nie meer nie; ek ken baie mense wat God deur alles heen gedien het, maar vanwee die leedtyd nie meer by ons is nie. En die gaping word nie of maar skaars aangevul.

    Dis dalk interesant om uit te wys dat baie van die land wat die Hollanders vroeer in die 50’s van die see verkry het, besig is om te verloor vanwee die hoe stand van die water. Is dit nie een interesante ding nie ? “God giveth and taketh away”

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